Is it our duty as writers?…

Preface: I have a feeling I will get very opinionated in this post…please disregard any slander or total opposites of your own cherished opinions.

About three or four years ago, when I began to give this whole writing thing a serious go, I did quite a bit of reading and studying to see what it takes to be a successful writer of fiction.  And no matter what source I was reading, one piece of advice seemed the same no matter where I looked: read, read, read.

This was not a problem for me, seeing as how I love to read.  The problem, I found, is that it typically helps to read outside your genre of choice.  It is also suggested that you read what is popular in order to get a taste for what the public (and, therefore, agencies and publishers) were interested in.

So I tried to start reading more non-horror fiction.  It wasn’t too painful; after all, my favorite novel of all time is Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, a very non-horror tale.  I did discover a few things during this time.  I learned that I simply can not read Tom Clancy.  Clive Cussler, either. Tami Hoag isn’t really all that bad and, from what little I’ve read, there is some truth behind the Michael Crichton hype (Sphere is actually in my top 20 books).

It was also during this time that I discovered Scott Smith.  Most of you probably know him by The Ruins.  It amazes me how many people don’t know that he wrote A Simple Plan years before that.  I read that 300+ page book in two sittings.  It was that good.

Anyway, the part I still have trouble with is reading popular fiction for the sake of my craft.  It is because of this responsibility that Dan Brown owes me 4 or 5 hours of my life back for having wasted it on reading his terrible claim to fame The DaVinci Code.  However, I was delighted to find that there were legitimate reasons for the best-selling success behind books like Gregory McGuire’s Wicked and, of course, Cormac MacCarthy’s The Road (also on my top 20 list). 

As most of you know, I fought the Harry Potter phenomena kicking and screaming.  Now that I am 5 books in, I see where the frenzy comes from but still hesitate to call J.K Rowling a “great” writer.  (Seriously…why does it take Harry and co. 200 pages to return to Hogwarts in Order of the Phenix)?

Similarly, as part of this duty I feel that writers should have in order to keep with the “in” trends in the publishing world, I have finally caved in to my wife’s wishes and started reading Twilight.  I put it off for a few days because I wanted to go into it with an open mind.  And when I did finally start reading it, I wasn’t all that impressed.  Yet, when I put the book down, I realized that it was way past my bedtime and that I had just read through 140 pages when I had only intended to read a chapter or two.

I see this in the same way that I see the Harry Potter books.  The story-telling is pretty good but the writers aren’t as great as they are being hyped to be (in my opinion).  As a matter of fact, (again, just my opinion), I would go so far as to say that I would rather have my fingernails removed than have to read more than one page of Stephenie Meyer’s dialogue.  I also believe that she missed the day in Creative Writing when they taught that you don’t have to reveal everything.  When someone does something as simple as walk outside, it shouldn’t take 5 pages to describe it.  But, as I said, it’s addictive reading and I don’t really know why.

There…I feel as if I’ve admitted some dark secret.  Anyway, the long way around to the point I was trying to make is this: are there any other horror or dark fiction writers out there that feel that it is, in a way, a writer’s responsibility to read what is popular and try to learn from marketing trends and popular styles?




  1. I can’t agree more. We can all take away what works and, on the flipside, what doesn’t work for the sake of our craft. Most short story writer would be in a world of hurt if they haven’t taken something away from what Hemingway has taught us about the simplicity of style. E.B. White who taught us that the story need not be complicated. Even the more flamboyant of popular writers offers something if we only take the time to look.

    (I am a fan of Harry as well. If the written word is infectious then Rowling is a carrier of the disease)

  2. I couldn’t read ‘Wicked’, I tried but it annoyed me. Loved and will always love the Harry Potter books and really enjoyed Twilght. No comment re the Da Vinci Code or its million other clones.

    I never read what is popular or what I’m supposed to, only what I want to whether it’s in my genre or not. Though one thing I do feel it is my duty as a writer to do is support first time novelists, and the small press.

  3. I read many genres, but don’t try to pay attention to trends and popularity. I’ve heard it said (or seen it written, rather) that if you’re seeing a trend, by the time you can jump on board wtih it, it will have passed. I think it’s good to know what’s out there, but as you’re discovering, a lot of the “popular” and bestselling work is done by terrible writers. I can’t read it half the time anyway. I spend hours perusing local books tores and on-line bookstores, but then don’t buy anything. But at leat I have an idea of what’s going on.

    Give me The Old Man and the Sea or The Road anyday. Both are two of my favorite books. But I guess each of those was popular in its time as well. Hmm…

  4. When I read Twilight, I found it infectious as well. When I finished it, I thought, “that book is going straight to my hips”. (i.e., full of sweetness and yummy fat) It wasn’t good by any means, but I couldn’t stop reading it. Twilight would have stayed with me longer if she hadn’t revealed everything.

    I agree with Cate on the small press issue. At first I resisted the idea, feeling that it was too blackmailish (support the small press if you want to be published). But in reality, if writers don’t support the little guy (usually other writers in our shoes), the little guy will stop doing business.

    My favorite books are always at least twenty years out–kind of like a historian with current events, I want the lasting power of something. Those are the books that really tap the eternal. Just one opinion.

    Most pop fiction can burn for all I care. I’m bitter that way.

  5. I suppose I feel that writers should try everything, at least once. Reading AND writing. Romance, horror, action-adventure, etc, all the sub-genres in-between. You don’t necessarily have to read EVERY popular book, but giving the talk of the town a try ain’t gonna hurt you.

    Read widely, write widely, I guess.

  6. Good points, everyone.

    The things that REALLY pisses me off about Twilight is that it really does suck you in. I’ll give Mrs. Meyer that much. I think it’s one of those books where you KNOW there’s a big reveal coming up (the blurb on the back of the book gives that much away) and, in knowing its coming, you feel like you have the edge over the charcaters. Does that make sense? Probably not…not enough coffee today.

  7. Yeah, that makes sense. It’s the same thing that makes dramatic irony work.

    Bella: His skin is like a Greek god carved from marble.
    Me: He’s a VAMPIRE you twit!

  8. I think we should be aware, but given that money can be tight not obligated to read entire books we don’t want to. Luckily, BORDERS tends to let a little free reading slide ; )

    This post reminds me that I really don’t read enough as an author. I will say, in my defense, that after worshipping at the altar of King since middle school I now seek out writers who are new or simply overlooked.

  9. I’m glad to see it isn’t just me that got rubbed the wrong way by DaVinci Code. My wife and oldest daughter got sucked into the Meyers trap last month, and I didn’t see either of them until early February. I have, so far, resisted. So far.

    I guess all authors have to find their own path; many would disagree, I’m sure, but I personally think Harvard-educated Pulitzer winners who can spout Joyce and Longfellow on command, and those who learned to write great stories about The Dragonriders of Shalooloo while spinning scenarios as Dungeon Master in mom’s basement are only a half a degree separated from each other, as long as they are doing what they enjoy.

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